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Hotel Sale Could Give the Watergate a Lift

If these walls could talk: The Watergate (Tyler Mallory for The Washington Post)

Say the word "Watergate" and everyone thinks Richard Nixon and Deep Throat. But in Washington, it has another meaning: It used to be the classiest address in town.

For more than 40 years, the curvy complex on the Potomac -- a hotel, offices and three apartment buildings -- has been home to A-listers (Condoleezza Rice, Alan Greenspan, Robert McNamara, John Warner, Mstislav Rostropovich) lured by its luxury shops and restaurants and its proximity to the Kennedy Center.

The Watergate still boasts such big names as Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Plácido Domingo, as well as Bob and Elizabeth Dole. But in the past decade, things have gone downhill -- hotel shuttered, retailers disappeared, mice moved in -- which is why Tuesday's hotel sale is such a big deal. "Everyone is looking forward to this auction," said socialite Tandy Dickerson, who's lived in the Watergate for 35 years. "We will be very helpful in showing them how to make it first-class again."

The place was a VIP magnet when it opened in 1965, and later attracted Nixon officials including John and Martha Mitchell, and the president's secretary, Rose Mary Woods. (Strange coincidence: The first major burglary at the complex was a jewelry theft in Woods's apartment.)

The Republicans fled the Watergate after the 1972 break-in at DNC headquarters, but returned when Ronald Reagan's pals -- Lee Annenberg, Charles Wick, Betsy Bloomingdale -- moved in.
Fewer big-name Democrats settled there, but it was a woman in Bill Clinton's life who created the biggest stir: Monica Lewinsky.

The former intern retreated to her mother's Watergate apartment when her affair with the president went public, and dozens of reporters camped outside the complex. When Lewinsky moved out, she slipped handwritten notes under neighbors' doors: "I wanted to apologize for the inconveniences of the past nine months. ... I hope you all know how very sorry I am that so much attention was brought to the building."

By The Reliable Source  |  July 21, 2009; 1:03 AM ET
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Once, when I was young and very naive, I was new to Washington from Texas and walked by the Watergate. I thought it was low income housing and pretty ugly housing at that. "These poor people" i mused.

Oh well, at least I kept it to myself.

Posted by: GaryEMasters | July 21, 2009 11:02 AM | Report abuse

The Watergate complex was a beautiful walkthrough for those of us poorer folks, but I remember fondly its predecessor, a lovely restaurant/tearoom at the corner closest to the Potomac River, which I was sorry to see closed. 43 years of WDC area living have many memories, now that we're retired elsewhere.

Posted by: pkm3444 | July 21, 2009 2:12 PM | Report abuse

That was very classy of Lewinsky, and frankly, I've never thought of that word in connection to her before.

Posted by: krasni | July 21, 2009 3:13 PM | Report abuse

Many real Washingtonians think not of Nixon or a hotel when Watergate is mentioned. Long before the hotel was built, Watergate meant evening concerts on the steps behind the Lincoln Memorial.
Bands played on a floating stage and there was little noise form airplanes landing at National Airport down river.
My friends and I used to rent canoes from Fletcher's Boathouse and paddle down to listen to the music from the water. It was a long and tiring paddle back up river to Fletcher's cove, but sometimes we would tie up to a motorboat and get a free ride back.

Posted by: jagdoctor | July 21, 2009 6:19 PM | Report abuse

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